Educational attainment statistics
Data extracted in April 2020.
Planned article update: 25 June 2021.
This article provides recent statistics on levels of education by country, age group and sex of the population of the European Union (EU), EFTA and candidate countries and forms part of an online publication on education and training. For information about the levels of education, see Data sources at the end of the article.
Level of educational attainment by age
The patterns of educational attainment levels of the population have changed significantly: on average, younger people attain higher levels of education than older ones. In 2019, 80.8 % of people aged 25–54 in the EU had attained at least an upper secondary level of education, compared with 66.2 % of those aged 55–74. Those with tertiary educational attainment amounted to 34.6 % of those aged 25–54 and 20.9 % of those aged 55–74 (see Table 1).
The Europe 2020 strategy sets a number of headline targets, including one for tertiary education, namely that by the year 2020 the proportion of 30–34 year-olds with tertiary educational attainment should be at least 40 %. In 2019, 40.3 % of the population aged 30–34 in the EU had completed tertiary education, reaching the target for the first time (see Figure 1).
In 18 EU Member States this proportion was also 40 % or more in 2019; this was also the case in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. By contrast, the lowest shares of those having completed tertiary education were observed in Romania and Italy, where the proportion of persons with tertiary educational attainment was below 30 %. National targets vary from 66 % in Luxembourg to 26 % in Italy; 18 countries have already achieved their national targets.
Level of educational attainment by sex
For the EU as a whole, women already reached the Europe 2020 headline target in 2013 (with a proportion of 40.1 % of women having completed tertiary education that year in the EU). Tertiary educational attainment for men in this age group stood at 35.1 % in 2019. The share of men with tertiary education has increased over the last ten years but at a slower pace than for women, leading to a broader gender gap (see Figure 2).
Data on educational attainment also show that, in 2019, more than four fifths (83.5 %) of the EU population aged 20–24 had completed at least an upper secondary level of education (i.e. ISCED level 3 and above), a figure that reached 86.2 % for women (see Table 2).
On the other hand, 10.2 % of young people aged 18–24 (11.9 % of men and 8.4 % of women) had completed at most lower secondary education but were no longer in education and training in 2019. A headline target is set by the EU to decrease this rate to less than 10 % by 2020 within the Europe 2020 strategy. This rate is commonly called 'early leavers from education and training'.
The national target level for this indicator has already been reached by 16 EU Member States in 2019. However, the share of early leavers from education and training is still high in Spain (17.3 %), Malta (16.7 %) and Romania (15.3 %) (see Figure 3).
Source data for tables and graphs
Statistics on the level of the educational attainment of the population are based on the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). The EU-LFS results cover the total population usually residing in Member States, except for persons living in collective or institutional households.
For data on educational attainment based on the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) the International Standard Classification of Education 2011 (ISCED 2011) is applied as from 2014. Up to 2013 ISCED 1997 is used.
Eurostat’s online database presents data on educational attainment for three aggregates:
- Less than primary, primary and lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0-2)
- Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3 and 4)
- Tertiary education (ISCED 2011 levels 5-8, ISCED 1997 levels 5 and 6)
At this level of aggregation data are comparable over time for all available countries except Austria and Estonia.
Educational attainment is the visible output of education systems and a measure of their success. For individuals, achievement levels have a major impact, both personally and professionally, on the quality of life and job opportunities. The level of educational attainment people reach is measured according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED).
- Key data on education in Europe - 2012 edition
- The European higher education area in 2015: Bologna process – Implementation report
- Trends in European education during the last decade - Statistics in focus 54/2011
- The EU has reached its target for share of persons aged 30 to 34 with tertiary education — news release April 2019
- Educational attainment and outcomes of education (t_educ_outc)
- Educational and training outcomes (educ_outc)
- Population by educational attainment level (edat1)
- Educational attainment level and transition from education to work (based on EU-LFS) (ESMS metadata file — edat1_esms)